Last year's renovation of the annual J.D. Power & Associates new-car quality survey shook up the rankings of the closely watched report, with a focus on design flaws over mechanical issues that elevated several automakers and downgraded others. This year's edition once again names Porsche as the most high-quality name — but it shuffles the rest of the industry around, and finds one brand trailing far behind the rest.
Based on 86,000 surveys of customers who bought or leased 2014 model-year cars after they've lived with them for 90 days, the 28th edition of the J.D. Power survey did have a new wrinkle this year: Winter. J.D. Power usually sends out its sureys in Feburary and March, and the company said this year's rougher-than-expected winter lowered the scores of many brands in the Midwest and Northeast. As it did last year, J.D. Power found a slight increase in average problems reported, which it said was due to new models and new technologies — like Bluetooth and voice controls — which were prone to not working as expected.
J.D. Power 2014 Initial Quality Survey
Problems per 100 vehicles (2014)
As it did last year, Porsche led all automakers with 74 problems reported per 100 cars, followed in 2014 by Jaguar at 87, Lexus at 92 and and Hyundai at 94. Many automakers reported large swings in their scores; Hyundai, Kia and Nissan all markedly improved, while brands such as Acura and Infiniti plunged; there was no clear trend distinguishing American, European or Asian brands. The overall average grew by 3 percent to 116.
Ford's changes highlight what kind of changes surveys like this can bring. Last year it ranked 27th, and was roundly criticized for its error-prone MyFordTouch system. Since then, Ford has redesigned the units in many new models to add buttons and easier-to-understand controls. This year, Ford ranked 16th.
Among individual models, General Motors took six, more than any other automaker, for the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevy Silverado HD, Chevy Suburban, GMC Terrain and GMC Yukon. Hyundai took five awards for the Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Genesis, Kia Cadenza and Kia Sportage.
And the bottom of the list held one of the larger surprises, where Fiat recorded a score of 206 problems per 100 vehicles, one of the worst scores seen in recent J.D. Power surveys, and a 33 percent increase in the brand's flaws over its 2013 score. Fiat only sells two models in the United States — the 500 and 500L — and it wasn't immediately clear why it lagged the rest of the industry by such a wide margin.
J.D. Power maintains that its tests can predict how likely a buyer will be to purchase from the same brand again, and sure enough the lower end of the list has several troubled brands, like Mitsubishi. But others, like Jeep, have been showing huge gains in recent years, and the scores don't necessarily correlate with long-term quality, where brands like Subaru and Buick perform better. (Fiat's sales are up 17 percent this year.) For Porsche, the survey only keeps its momentum going; for Fiat, it's another hurdle to clear.